Cooking With Confidence
foodshoulddie
Musings

Real Food Should Die

by Nick

Humans are clingy creatures.

We want to hang on to every little thing and have it for ever and ever. We want to have access to any possible resource at any possible time.

This is why we’ve created items like cameras — to capture memories so we can re-live those moments.

It’s why the show Hoarders exists.

But when we save things forever, we sometimes lose a piece of that original item as well. A photo is never as good as the original moment.

Some things are meant to be lost and the best thing that we can do is enjoy them while they are here and then say Adios.

Over the last many decades the world of food preservation has gone overboard. It’s not strange to see food on shelves now that can be eaten a decade from now. In most cases, I think this extreme type of preservation is a bad idea and used to shill cheap food to unknowing people.

Simply by choosing to eat food that dies, we can actually eat healthier!

Real Food Dies

Think about the foods that go badly the quickest in your house: apples, spinach, tomatoes, lettuce and other greens, fresh vegetables, berries and grapes…

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that those foods are also some of the healthiest foods that you can eat.

It makes complete sense to me actually. Those foods are nutrient packed and they spoil because bacteria are smart little things and want those nutrients! You should want them also!

Food that nourishes dies because if you don’t eat it, something else will.

Meanwhile, if something lasts for months, or years, without going bad, you have to wonder what’s actually in that thing. Can it even be called food? What could be in that thing if even bacteria won’t touch it?

Let’s look at some examples.

An Extreme Example: McDonalds Time Lapse

Here’s something that may or may not blow your mind: McDonald’s does not make their burgers the same day they serve them to you.

All of their food is made in huge factories and shipped out to their restaurants. It can sit in freezers for months without any difference in flavor or texture due to amazing food science.

A few years ago there was a project that went pretty viral where someone left a happy meal out on their table for six months, 180 days, without covering it or in any way protecting it from nature.

This was the result:

Now, I’m not recommending eating this after it sat out for 180 days, but I wouldn’t recommend eating it on day one either.

The point is that this burger and fries is so completely stripped of any sort of nutrition and so packed with preservatives, that even BUGS don’t want it.

If the food you are eating regularly can last for 180 days sitting out on the cabinet, then you might be better off nutritionally just eating the cabinet.

Quick Update: Astute reader MattW sent me a very detailed Serious Eats project that got to the bottom of why the McDonalds burger didn’t rot. It turns out any burger of the same size won’t experience decay. For more info on how McDonalds makes their burgers, you can check out their ingredients list.

A Jarring Distinction

Humans are smart and over the years we’ve come up with many ways to preserve real food. Techniques like canning, pickling, and drying are techniques used to give us a way to hang onto food for a few extra months.

It’s important to note the difference though between taking a food that would otherwise die and finding a way to store it and creating a food product that just lasts forever.

After all, if I open a jar of homemade jelly or a jar of pickles, they will mold after a few weeks.

If I open a package of Twinkies, they will still be Twinkies for months. Barely changed.

Unfortunately, jarring and canning just isn’t enough for some food manufacturers. They need food that lasts forever.

And for that, they need a new kind of flour.

My Pet Peeve

One of my biggest pet peeves has to do with flour.

If you check out the ingredients list on most manufactured foods, one of the first ingredients will be “Enriched White Flour”.

When I saw this for the first time, I thought it was probably a good thing. After all, “enriched” means to make better right?

Well, that depends on who is defining better.

It turns out that even though perfectly normal flour has a pretty long shelf life, many many months, it wasn’t long enough for food manufacturers. They wanted something that lasts for years or even decades.

The history of how this flour got created is pretty interesting actually. For a start on its history, you can check out the Wikipedia page.

What’s important though is that food manufacturers learned that if you strip all of the nutrients out of flour, and then add a few nutrients back in, the flour is shelf-stable for years.

That’s because bugs are no longer interested in it.

So then they put it in all sorts of baked goods and ship it out to you!

Now, I’m not going to sit here and write with a straight face that I don’t have a few products with enriched white flour in my pantry right now. I certainly do.

But I know that those products aren’t healthy. They aren’t providing me with any real nutrition. It just so happens that I like them.

Real flour, whole wheat flour, will go bad much faster. Bread made without preservatives will mold much quicker than bread made with preservatives and enriched white flour.

A Quick Health Rule

If you are confused by all the hype and crazy diets out there, just eat stuff that dies.

If your fridge and counter space is packed with foods that you need to eat within the week or you will lose them, then you are probably eating healthier than most people in America.

These foods wither, mold, and decompose because other things are eating them.

You should be eating them first.

Do you eat foods that die? Leave a comment!

Photo by karmablue.

Share this post!

13 comments on “Real Food Should Die

  1. “Just eat stuff that dies.” I LOVE this! This is a great post, Nick. So true. I don’t follow it as I should, of course, because cost and location really prevent me from having access to the foods I’d prefer to eat. But I want to keep trying! This reminds me of how the French talk about cheese. Cheese is meant to be kept out of the frig — only dead things are put into refrigeration (like … dead bodies~), and cheese is supposed to be ALIVE! That’s what makes it good, and good for you!

  2. I couldn’t agree more with this post. It can even be taken a step further with fruits and veggies when it comes to organic foods. I know not everyone agrees that organic is better, but there is a sharp contrast between organic and non-organic bread, carrots, spinach, strawberries, lettuce (all fresh). The other day I jokingly said to my boyfriend, ‘Gosh darn organic carrots!’ because they were starting to wilt a little after a few days. It was a joke since we knew that the ‘regular’ carrots would still be ‘fresh’, but it doesn’t seem very ‘real’ to me! We ended up eating the carrots that day and they were delicious. It’s kind of scary how far removed people are from their food and what we consider ‘normal’ these days.
    One thing I’ve recently started doing to make sure we eat all of our food before it goes bad and also to reduce costs of shopping was to make a list of everything we have in the kitchen. I realized we had 4 different types of breakfast cereal when you include 2 types of oatmeal, cereal, and granola. Doing this makes us go through the food we have before needing to buy more.
    Great post, Nick!

  3. http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2010/11/the-burger-lab-revisiting-the-myth-of-the-12-year-old-burger-testing-results.html

    Take a look, similar sized homemade burgers did not rot or mold either. And a McD’s quarter pounder molded just like a homemade one.

    I would never say McD’s is healthy food, but relying on junk science to reach conclusions about a complete lack of any nutritional content in a McD’s burger isn’t helping the cause.

    Eat fresh whole foods, and eat less food. That should be most American’s (including me) goal.

    1. Fascinating Matt. I hadn’t seen that post. I updated the section of this post with that link.

      Thanks for the update.

  4. Love this rule. Up there with “eat food, mostly plants, not too much”
    Only exception in my book: honey. Honey naturally never goes bad.

  5. What a great first read of the day, Nick. Good for you — and us. We joined a CSA and each week get a crop of different items. It’s a fun challenge to work with all of these items, but it’s always a race against the clock as they don’t stay fresh more than a few days or so. You’ve given me a new way to look at that timeline! Thanks.

  6. I get a box of organic produce delivered to me once every two weeks and I had better be prepared for it. It was pretty eye opening that whatever is put into and on the produce at the grocery gives it a longer shelf life; organic dies quicker.

    I’ve only recently found a grocery with flour that is not bleached…that word always bothered me used in conjunction with food.

  7. I visit your page everyday, but this is my first time leaving a comment. I really loved reading this post.

    Keep up the good work :)

  8. I am to the point where I have to shop like Europeans shop -stop at the grocery store almost every day to see what looks fresh and plan your dinner around it. Of course you get the regular and pantry staples you need, but with regard to produce, get what’s in season at the peak of freshness. I am lucky that I live in Chicago, where on Thursdays there are farmers markets all over the central business district so that office workers can go and shop for just picked produce. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.

    Outside of that I tend to quickly pop into Whole Foods. When you only buy what you need for one particular meal, you end up spending a lot less on organic produce because you are wasting less. At first it seems like a huge time commitment, but it’s really not because you’re going for a few specific items. Whether it’s for kale and carrot smoothies in the morning or chili garlic broccoli with vegetable dumplings at dinner, shopping often ensures that you only get what you need and that it’s as fresh as it can possiblly be.

  9. My wife and I have been making the transition to “living” food over the past year. We still use some convenience foods; namely canned beans, but most of our food has become the kind that rots. Dinner tastes better, of course, but it’s been a difficult transition in that it really shuts off snacking options when you aren’t in the mood to make things or eat vegetables. Still, it’s the right way to go.

  10. My Mother got on the natural food bandwagon in 1970 when they bought a new house and while packing the old house discovered a open package of sponge short cakes that were lost in a cabinet for over a year. She realized if it didn’t support mold, how could it support you?

Leave a Comment